02 May How to Achieve Career Independence
On this Independence Day in the USA, I felt especially blessed, as I headed to Cooperstown, New York with my wife to take our daughters to the Baseball Hall of Fame for the first time. (After all, baseball isn’t just a passion for me, it’s a blueprint for great leadership.) Then, when we happened to drive through Liberty, New York, I got to thinking, not only about the freedoms we enjoy as Americans, but about the freedom I enjoy as en entrepreneur.
I’ve been reflecting back on the blessing of career independence- that is, not having a boss. Starting and running your own company is most certainly a roller coaster, with lots of ups and downs. The ups for me? Making the INC 500 list of fastest growing private companies in the US, the last 2 years. The downs? Barely making payroll several times early on. But being an entrepreneur has also allowed me to visit each of my daughter’s classes more than any other parent, each year for the last three years- that’s priceless, if you ask me.
To better understand how anyone can achieve career independence through entrepreneurship, I talked with my friend Scott Gerber, founder of the Young Entrepreneurs Council (YEC) and author of Never Get a Real Job. Scott believes that the only way to secure your employment and financial future is to start a company.
“The resume-driven society says, if we work hard and go to school, we’ll get a job and be ok. That traditional thinking no longer applies,” says Scott. “Now, more than ever, you need to be entrepreneurial to be successful; you need to create a job to keep a job.”
“When you work for someone else you’re putting all your eggs into one basket that you don’t own or hold. If you want to secure your financial future, you need to be in control of your own life,” Scott continued. Here is Scott Gerber’s advice on becoming a successful entrepreneur, mixed in with my experience over the last six years of my entrepreneurial journey:
1. Check your ego at the door.
“You can’t build a successful business if you don’t have your priorities straight and ego in check,” said Scott.
While entrepreneurs should be confident, if you go overboard, you’ll get in your own way. I’ve learned that t’s not about me. It’s about our mission, our staff, and most of all, our customers.
2. Keep it dead simple.
“If your idea is not simple, you’re stupid,” said Scott. “Build a business that is nuts and bolts practical and not complex. Create a simplified product or service that sells X product to Y customer for Z profit,” he said.
As our businesses have grown, it’s gotten tempting to add layers of products and services. But the reality is, the more simple you can keep your idea, products, and processes, the better off you’ll be. Humans crave simplicity.
3. Always be prepared for the worst case scenario.
“Every decision should be thought through; plan for the worst so you’re not caught off guard if it happens,” said Scott. “Come up with three alternatives for every decision so you’ve taken every possibility into consideration,” he suggests. I’ve found a big part of this is cash planning. Have 3-6 months of expenses on hand at all times, just in case things don’t go as planned. This is as important to have in a mature business as it is in one just starting out. 4. Consider being unoriginal.
“Too many people think they need to reinvent the wheel, but if they do, the wheel will run them over,” said Scott. “Instead, focus on bettering an idea that already exists.”
Use your creativity to better market an unoriginal idea. “Think of the guys who started College Hunks Hauling Junk,” says Gerber. “They put a creative spin on a pre-existing idea. At its core, it’s just a junk removal business.”
It’s all about risk versus reward. If you have an idea that’s smashingly original, it may one day be huge – but chances are against you for success. There’s no market validation. If on the other hand you can take existing successful ideas and just iterate on them or combine them ever so slightly- that’s where the magic can most feasibly happen.
5. Make sure your business is not a bottomless pit.
“Start a business that is efficient with few monetary demands in the beginning,” said Gerber.
When I started out, I didn’t have any money. I just focused on business ideas that could turn a profit quicker and didn’t have many startup costs. The more you can do yourself, at the beginning, the better. Once you start making money, you can start taking more chances with greater expenses.
6. Become a cheapskate.
“If you want to start a business, you need to change the way you spend money,” said Scott.
“Know the difference between a frivolous expense and a necessity that can be bartered, bargained for, or partnered on.”
When I started my first company with my wife, after our sponsored wedding, 1-800-Flowers.com wanted to work with us – but we were an unproven entity. We offered to work for them for barter – an entire year of consulting for $48,000 worth of flowers and gifts. Some advisors told us this was foolish – but after giving flowers and gifts to practically every customer, prospect and staff member we spoke with that first year, and generating nearly $1 million in revenue the following year, I can tell you it was one of the best business decisions I ever made.
7. Choose partners wisely.
Assess if a partnership makes sense before you jump into it.
“Your friends might seem like the best partners, but they might end up slacking off and doing nothing. Or someone who seems great and you think you can trust might put you through the ringer later on,” said Gerber. “Make sure you evaluate what a partner can bring to the table and make sure it’s worth it.”
My wife Carrie was and still is an amazing business partner, but that too was a roller coaster early on as well. As you work with partners, it’ll take time, energy and patience to get to know one another as business partners.
8. Throw the business plan out the window.
Scott is a fan of one paragraph startup plans. Anything longer is just not necessary. “Stop thinking you have to write a business plan for investors or dense dissertations. You don’t need a traditional plan to be a small business owner,” Gerber said
“Business planning isn’t a revenue-generating opportunity. Instead, get started on your business so you can make money as soon as possible.”
Gerber recommended writing one paragraph in question and answer format in lieu of a 95-page plan that takes six months to put together.
As for me, I’ve built two multimillion dollar companies in the last six years, each using a 1-page-strategic business plan, the template for which I got from my friend, Entrepreneurs Organization founder Verne Harnish. Those two pages have certainly worked well for us.
9. The phone won’t ring on Day 1. Network, network, network.
You absolutely can’t expect to launch a business and have the phones ring, or orders come in, or even Facebook likes roll in. You’ve got to market yourself creatively, and network with everyone you meet.
The thing is, you can’t think of networking as finding out how other people can help you and your business. You’ve got to think of networking as how you can genuinely help others. Only then will the phone start to ring, as people will want to help you. Here are nine networking tips from Scott and six conference networking tips from me.
10. Be afraid, then go for it anyway.
Starting a business is scary. Owning your our business is scary. As I grow my second business in six years, I’m still afraid all the time. But you can’t let fear stop you. As I’ve said before, courage is the ability to fear fear and then proceed anyway. Anyway, what should you be more afraid of – failing (and learning) or never having tried?
As Scott said, “Be afraid to wake up 10, 20, 30 years from now and be pointing your finger at the TV saying, that was my idea!”
Many people have dreamt of being their own boss, setting their own hours, and having every minute of work be directly beneficial. Whether you’re still in college or you’ve been in the workforce for many years, this dream is more possible than ever before.
Said Gerber, “If you want to secure your financial future regardless of the economy, you need to be in control of your own life. That doesn’t mean that entrepreneurship is easy, but it does allow you to make your own destiny. Every hour of work can be for you — that’s a major change from a 9-5 job.”
Now it’s your turn. If you own your own business, how did you make the jump? What advice do you have for people considering entrepreneurship? Ifyou have a dream of starting your own business, tell us about it! What’s holdingyou back, and how can entrepreneurs on LinkedIn help you? Please share yourthoughts in the Comments section below, and please do share this article with your network, so that as many people as possible can achieve career independence.